It's been a while since the last blog, and I'm pleased to say that is because we have been extremely busy.
Summer 2019 was when Le Moulin de Pensol, as a business, really found its feet. Our B&B rooms were open, and the gites were full. We met some wonderful people and our market from the Netherlands, Belgium and France grew – which we were delighted about, particularly given the current fiasco taking place in the UK Parliament and the weakness of the pound..
We found running a B&B for one night stays, and doing gite changeovers, was too much for just the two of us. So during July and August we let the B&B rooms, together with the generous kitchen and living area, as a large family gite, with either two or three bedrooms depending on demand. This was reasonably successful seeing as we had done little publicity for it, with most bookings coming from booking.com and Airbnb.
These Online Travel Agents (OTAs as they are known) are incredibly useful for the small-scale accommodation owner and have a powerful marketing reach. You can have the nicest accommodation in the world, but if no one knows you are there it will never be booked. However, owners would always prefer that you book direct with them because the OTAs take a whopping 15% in commission and other charges on each booking. In addition, they do not hand over any information on the customer, such as email address, with all communication having to go through the OTA's own website. This is the part I really don't like – I don't begrudge them the commission, they have earned it after all by doing my marketing for me – but I hate not being able to communicate directly with guests. We noticed that the French in particular NEVER go back and look at the OTA website after they have booked. It therefore doesn't matter how many messages you send them asking when they will arrive or if they have a dog or any dietary requirements, they will seldom reply. It also means I am not allowed to point guests in the direction of my own website, which as you lovely blog readers will all know, has a wealth of information on things to do locally, directions to supermarkets, what to pack etc etc etc. if I include a link to our own website in any OTA correspondence with a guest I receive a reprimand from the agent and ultimately risk being kicked off the site. So remember, use the big OTA's to find a property, but then always #bookdirect. Most owners will share some of the 15% commission saving with direct-booking guests – we certainly do – so prices are cheaper that way.
We had a variety of different guests this year. One visitor early in the year pointed out that our Facebook page advertised us in Dutch as "accommodation without children". This is because the former owners (now our friends, Marloes and Hein) set up this page and promoted Le Moulin as such. This might have explained why we found our large family gite, Chataignier, so hard to let. Once we removed this erroneous tag from the Facebook page we received a rush of bookings from families. At one point we had nine children on the site during August, including my own son who came for the whole summer. They all got on really well and it was lovely watching the different nationalities play and communicate together – in such stark contrast to the depressing direction of the UK currently.
We also had several walkers who were walking the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Marloes told us that the official route used to come right past the mill but that it was changed recently and now passes nearbyto the east. However, many of the old guidebooks still show the route passing through Pensol, and Le Moulin still makes a sensible stop-off for tired walkers.
Haven't I done well getting this far without mentioning donkeys? This summer saw the arrival of our fourth donkey. Little Sinnita was given to us as she had been a companion for a horse but the owner was moving to Brittany. Small and dark and pretty, she is very different to our other three, and at five years old she is the youngster of the group. Upon the arrival of Sinnita our three original donkeys, who until that point hadn't really liked each other very much, immediately bonded into the world's strongest herd and she was subjected to 4 days of horrible bullying. She stood up for herself however and we will never forget watching her give Vladimir both barrels in the face after she had just had enough of his harassment. Everyone is friends now and she is starting to form a special attachment to the big brown donkey, Napoleon – which is exactly what we had hoped would happen. Although she is a Spanish breed she has some Poitou in her (which is what Napoleon is) and, apparently, when she had a foal he came out brown and woolly – just like our big clown Napoleon. Maybe in the future it would be nice to let her have another foal. Napoleon and Vladimir are geldings but we could find her a handsome donkey stallion somewhere I'm sure.
We are now into September and in a way this is my favourite time of the year. The intense heat of the summer has gone but the days are still warm and sunny. The chasse (the hunt) has not started yet and all the flies have disappeared – making this a perfect time for long walks in the woods, mushroom-picking forays, horse riding and generally enjoying the beautiful countryside of the Parc Naturel Périgord Limousin. If you fancy a quick break before the end of the season then have a look at our website. And book direct of course.